NHL notes (cont.)
It's a popular conclusion that newly-hired Columbus Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel was a "second choice" behind Guy Boucher, who turned down an offer from the Jackets to sign with Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning. I won't add my voice to that chorus because it's possible that Arniel, a former NHL player and Manitoba Moose coach, was perhaps the third or even fourth choice on GM Scott Howson's list of candidates. But I can guarantee you that the perceived snub won't have an impact on Arniel or his newfound charges.
Arniel is a working man's coach, a teacher, and pretty much exactly what the seemingly directionless Jackets need in the wake Ken Hitchcock's firing and a disappointing season. There are pockets of talent on the team, but if there is one outstanding issue it is that outside of Columbus, the franchise lacks an identity. It will get one with Arniel, who is as demanding as Hitchcock but able to blend that with a clear understanding of what it's like to be a player, how players think and, perhaps most importantly, how they react to both good and bad things.
Hitchcock had his ways and rules and was a fundamentally sound teacher, but you could never characterize him as having a "connection" with his players. Arniel is different. He played 730 NHL games and, in what had to be one of his more humbling but defining moments, he accepted the fact that his NHL career was over yet still played another 555 games in the minor leagues.
That's no small thing, but it gives insight into Arniel's love for the game and his willingness to keep playing simply because he loved to do so. He used that time in the minors to develop the mindset that few things in life go as planned, but a smart person can learn from setbacks and be a better hockey player and coach because of them.
Arniel has working man's roots. His father and mother both worked full-time jobs, but they put an effort into instilling in their four children a sense of right and wrong, the value of hard work, and never putting themselves above others even if they happened to be an NHL prospect drafted in the first round, 22nd overall.
He never measured up to the offensive expectations of even a low first-round draft pick, but Arniel never let that stop him from becoming a complete hockey player, one who could score the occasional goal, but also win faceoffs, be responsible in the defensive end, and contribute to a winning team even when he came away pointless on the scoresheet.
"Everyone is in a hurry to get where they are going in life," Craig Heisinger, the GM of the Moose told the Columbus Dispatch after Arniel completed his fourth season in Manitoba and was named to the Blue Jackets position. "Sometimes, the best lessons are learned because you're willing to take that extra time to learn them."
Arniel is 47 years old, and with seemingly two lifetimes (one in the NHL and the other in the AHL) under his hat, he's a classic example. He's a driven man, but with a sense of purpose to be good at what he does and help others do the same. That's a nice quality in a coach and the Jackets are likely to be better for it.
It's still up in the air as to which way the NHL Players Association will vote regarding accepting or rejecting the salary inflator that is open to them this offseason. If they vote yes, it will create a five percent bump in the salary cap, likely to just under $60 million a season while it eases the potential pain of teams that are already up against it and might need to reduce payroll to get under the line for next season.
If the players vote no, it will ease the pressure on their escrow issues, a growing source of discontent among those who are unhappy about returning money to the league at the end of the season because some teams overspent and the difference has to be made up by taxing the players. A no vote would also lower the cap from its current high of $57.8 million and that would put a real crimp on free agent salaries this offseason and likely impact contracts across the board as teams move to get to the newly-lowered high (a figure thought to be as low as $56 million should the players take that action).
The PA is also likely to vote to extend the current agreement through the end of the 2011-12 season. That's another option created when the Cap system went into place after the lockout gave the NHL what it wanted at the bargaining table and threw the PA into a leadership freefall that still hasn't been resolved. The players may not necessarily want the extension, but it's a given that they aren't yet ready for their next round of negotiations because they have yet to elect a new executive director. And even if they did that today, there wouldn't be enough time to assemble and execute a negotiation plan.
The current agreement has been reasonably good for the players and possibly far better for their bottom lines than what was imagined, and even declared, after the cap was put into place in what was described as a limitless win for management and ownership at the time.
The issue of the inflator shows that the PA hasn't yet put its collective house in order regarding formulating a plan and executing it under leadership that will position the players to obtain gains the next time they are at the negotiating table. One of the big issues still to be resolved is whether the cap works for all teams. Big markets seem to have many more options (including creating new cap space by putting highly-paid players into buyout or burying them and their salaries in the minors. It's basically a tactic that allows wealthy franchises to burn money. Small market teams generally can't afford to do that and hence are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of keeping their rosters intact.
That's hardly what the mid-market and small market teams had in mind when they banded together in an effort to get some control over the players as well as their large market brethren, several of whom had been driving the cap up simply because they could afford to and in so doing, financially bury their mistakes.
The high end of the cap allowed for teams like the Blackhawks and Flyers to reinvent themselves as Cup contenders simply by spending more than other teams could afford, but that doesn't sit well with franchises that, largely because of market conditions, have had to cut back.
Carolina Hurricanes general manger Jim Rutherford recently announced that his team would be at or close to the floor for next season. In so doing, the 'Canes will spend more on payroll (just over $40 million) than they spent when they won the Cup in 2005-06 ($27.2 million). Rest assured that ownership in Carolina and a great many other NHL cities is not happy with the floor position of the CBA and will want a change come negotiation time.